Hey look, it's draft two! Yes, I've finally put it up here. Like I said, I'm putting it up here as a teaser for when the whole thing will be done. Which will be sometime. I promise. I do really want that proof copy. :]
And so, without further ado...
By Christina Icarus
Islander: Hero’s Tale
is dedicated to
my math teachers
because goodness knows I hated your classes the most
but you never gave up on this crazy writer kid
a life alone
The sun danced across the waves like carameled silver, lissome and moving with the water. The Island watched across its bay as the one lone figure drew his net into the little boat with him. The wind played with his red-blonde hair as it whisked by.
The only sounds were the gentle movement of the water and those of his quiet work.
It wasn’t unheard of on his island. Isolation. He was quite open and happy with being on his own. Sometimes he enjoyed the break from the busy and close-knit life on a small island.
Hero cast his net back into the water. The rope rested lightly around his wrist, swaying as the net it was attached to rocked beneath the waves. The sun was high in the late morning sky: he’d been at his work for several hours. Soon he would start back for his Island, where his younger sister would be waiting.
The other Islanders would be excited about his catch, he knew. It didn’t escape him that the reason they were so happy to see him had much to do with the fact he sold his fish for a fraction of the price others offered for their catches.
It’s all I can do, he reasoned, watching the water, to repay them for how they’ve watched out for Tranquility and I. Especially Able. He knew how the leader’s eyes would light up when he say the number of fish Hero caught today.
The loop around his wrist strained slightly, and he drew the net back into the boat with a swift tug. Fish slid on the dank boards through the loose net. Not bad. Not bad at all. He surveyed the fish from above before dropping them in a water-tight basket. Now it’s about time to head back.
Hero slid the loop onto a peg in the boat’s side and picked up the oars. Rowing gently, he let his mind wander as he watched the light play the waters.
The Island was always the same. The people worked and played consistently, going through every day as the one before. They were lax and content, fine with their peaceful existence.
Today, however, proved to be different for Hero. Something caught his attention, and he glanced up to find a tower of black somewhere in the distance.
He stopped rowing and squinted, straining to make out the shape. No, not a tower, he realized: a pillar of what looked to be shadow. It covered the waters, causing them to be an inky black, but all around the circle the sun was still shining bright.
Hero’s eyes followed it upward, wondering what created such intense darkness below it. An oblivious white cloud hid the end from view, and he picked up his oars again. Turning his little boat around, he rowed towards the mysterious phenomenon.
As he did so, a feeling of uneasiness settled over him. The fish in his basket stopped flopping idly and were still. The wind stopped blowing. I’m just going to see, he reassured himself, and then I’ll go back.
He still felt apprehensive as the little cloud moved on. The pillar of black continued up, farther and farther… and then it stopped.
Hero blinked, and his apprehension peaked. Nothing was creating the darkness. It hung, suspended, in a ring high above the water. Above it, cheery blue spread across the sky, dotted with small white clouds.
Hero involuntarily shivered, and without hesitation, he turned his boat around and rowed back toward his Island.
That hadn’t been there before. He knew. He was on the waters every day, fishing to pay back the Islanders for taking care of him and his orphaned sister.
No, he said, setting his jaw. Not orphaned. Just . . . waiting.
But what was it?
He shook his head, trying to clear it. Leaning into his rowing, he pushed the little boat through the water. Someone on the island will know, he decided. Someone has to.
Hero glanced up. On the shore, a tiny figure stood still. He smiled slightly. Tranquility. She always knew just when to come so she could meet him as he returned from his trips. He rowed a little faster so he didn’t keep her waiting.
When he was close enough to make out the shape of her blonde braid blowing away from her in the stiff breeze, he stood and waved, grinning. He watched her arm rise as she waved back, and tilted his head as she started to gesture. He would call, but she couldn’t hear him that far in the distance.
Following her motions, he turned to see a black skiff zooming along the waves. Its sails were red as blood, and even the water in its wake looked disturbed.
Quickly, Hero sat and redoubled his efforts to row. Maybe it’s . . . He laughed out loud at the thought. No, concentrate. You’ve got to make it to the scene of the action, instead of just hearing about it. By the time news got to him, it was always old. Not this time, he decided.
He rode the boat onto the rocks and lashed it to a large stone. Dragging it up out of the water, he flung the basket over his shoulder as his sister ran to meet him.
“Do you know who it is?” she asked.
Hero shook his head. “I bet they bring news, though. Ships always bring good news.”
She took his hand, and they started for the landing beach. Other Islanders were already standing about in the sand, speculating, murmuring amongst themselves as the landing boat skipped across the water to them. Able alone was silent, pensive. Hero noted the expression of the village leader and his surrogate father. His arm instinctively tightened around Tranquility’s shoulders as he wondered, What if it’s not good news at all?
Tranquility glanced up and smiled at him, and he forced himself to smile back. He was ten years older than her, and he hoped his positive smile would fool her this time.
The boat skidded onto the sand, and several sailors hopped out to steady it. A black mass huddled near the back of the boat, and Hero didn’t realize it was human until it stood. The tall man stepped lightly out onto the sand and flung back his hood. The red emblem of the royal family was branded on his black messenger’s cloak, and he examined the people before speaking. His gaze was aloof, critical. When he turned to Hero, the boy met his ice-blue gaze without fear.
The messenger blinked, taken aback. Hero wondered at this, but the next second the man was stepping forward to the village chief, inquiring in elegant language if he could speak to him alone, and Able was motioning for Hero to come along as well. Maybe he just imagined the strange light in the messenger’s icy eyes.
Hero followed behind the messenger and Able as they headed up the dusty path to the village. Tranquility held his hand, and the other Islanders trickled up the path after them, unsure as to what was going on.
Able ushered them inside the large hut that served as his home. He graciously offered their guest a chair, and Hero noted that it was one he had made. The visitor took it and Able sat across from him. Hero stood by the door, and Tranquility seated herself at a stool nearby.
“What is it you wanted to speak to me about?” Able inquired easily. Hero knew a visit from a royal messenger was the thing Able dreaded the most, but the leader had erased all lines of apprehension from his face.
“Perhaps you are aware,” the messenger started, gazing evenly at Able, “that mysterious shadows have appeared over the land.”
Hero stiffened, thinking about the pillar of darkness in the bay.
The messenger caught the motion and glanced at the boy. “And if you have not, it appears he has.”
“I have heard rumors.” Able turned to Hero as well. “What do you know of it, Hero?”
“I haven’t heard anything,” Hero replied, trying to relax. “I think I saw a shadow like that in the bay is all.” He met Able’s gaze and tried not to feel guilty. “I was going to come and tell you, but . . .”
“I am not surprised,” the messenger assented. “Similar shadows have been forming over other parts of the world. The darkness spreads, and in the center a void destroys that which was inside. As the darkness grows, so does the void. I was sent to tell you by the king that if such darknesses begin to reveal themselves around or above your Island, you should flee immediately. Soon the darkness would envelop your Island and begin to eat away at the matter itself. This darkness . . .,” He paused and met Hero’s gaze. “. . . is unstoppable.”
“And what then?” Hero asked, feeling that the messenger’s steady gaze gave him right to speak. He glanced at Able, but the older man was silent, listening, so he continued. “Is this darkness going to swallow up everything?”
“Yes.” The messenger’s voice was cool, calm. “Unless we can find someone with the ability to stop it.”
“But you just said it was unstoppable,” Hero countered.
“Wait.” Able held up his hand. “Continue, messenger,” he invited. “We will keep our questions until the end.”
Hero bit his lip as the messenger glanced at him. Guess what, Islanders? He thought to himself irritably. You’re all going to die. There’s no chance of survival. Maybe.
“I have reason to believe,” the messenger started, leaning back in the chair. His long legs were crossed at the ankles, taking up a large portion of the wooden floor. “I have reason to believe that there is someone in the world that does have the ability to destroy the darkness. I was sent by the king not only to spread news of the darkness but also to search for the one with this power. The princess is captive in a cage of the same darkness in the capital city, and the king is desperate to find who can save her.” He looked to Hero. “I believe that you are this one.”
Hero was stunned. “What?” He looked quickly to Able, but the leader was silent, contemplative. Instead, he turned to the tall messenger, irritated. “What do you mean you think it’s me? You don’t even know me. You just showed up on our beach, saw a random kid and decided I’m the one who can save the world?”
The messenger studied Hero for a moment, and then turned to Able. “Tell me, did anything strange happen to him as a child?”
Able thought seriously. “Not often,” he said, just before Hero could open his mouth to ask if the messenger had even heard him. “When he was very small, however, his parents expressed concern.
When all the other children were up in the morning, he was often still sleeping. I asked them what he did at night. The next day his mother told me he played with fireflies after he thought his parents were asleep.” Watching Able set his jaw, Hero refrained from asking if they remembered he was there. Tranquility’s hand slid into his, and he tried to relax.
He didn’t do a very good job.
The messenger nodded slightly. “Fireflies are not native to this Island,” he observed.
“Exactly.” Able dipped his head. “There have never been fireflies on this Island. He told her he found them, but wouldn’t tell her where. After a while, it stopped, and she didn’t mention it again.” Now he studied Hero, watching him, looking beyond him. “She wasn’t ever surprised—just informing me,” he added thoughtfully.
“But I’m just a normal seven-and-ten year old!” Hero objected loudly.
The messenger didn’t respond to the last comment. He stood, imposing and dark in the cheerful, homey hut. “Let us perform a test,” he proposed to Able. He glanced down at Hero and added, “Assuming you do not mind?”
Hero opened his mouth to make a remark, but the look on Able’s face stopped him. “All right.” He scowled slightly, but not too much, lest Able see and be disappointed. “I’m just a normal kid. Nothing will happen.”
The villagers looked like they wanted to speak up and ask what was going on, but Able’s silence and Tranquility’s uncharacteristic glares were enough to keep them silent as the four trekked swiftly down the path to the skiff.
The messenger stepped easily into the small boat and motioned for Able to follow. When the village leader stepped in, the sailors started to push off, and Hero barely had enough time so set Tranquility on the bench before the boat started to leave the shore. Hero plashed through the water and heaved himself into the boat before it could leave him behind. Irritably he glanced at the messenger, but the tall, pale man was looking across the green water. He turned to Hero after a moment. “Where is this darkness?” He asked. His voice displayed an unconvincing lack of emotion.
“Just around the bend,” Hero mumbled, irked. “You’ll know it when you see it.”